I have mixed feelings about Michelle Obama’s forthcoming book, American Grown, which the Barnes & Noble web site describes as:
Now, in her first-ever book, American Grown, Mrs. Obama invites you inside the White House Kitchen Garden and shares its inspiring story, from the first planting to the latest harvest… Learn about her struggles and her joys as lettuce, corn, tomatoes, collards and kale, sweet potatoes and rhubarb flourished in the freshly tilled soil. Get an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at every season of the garden’s growth… Try the unique recipes created by top White House chefs… [read about a community] garden that devotes its entire harvest to those less fortunate, and other stories of communities that are transforming the lives and health of their citizens. With American Grown, Mrs. Obama tells the story of the White House Kitchen Garden, celebrates the bounty of our nation, and reminds us all of what we can grow together.
The book is due out –well, now, really, the end of May. But I’ll tell the truth here: I hate this description and I’m sorry she wrote the book just from the blurb. Really, this is the best they could do? It’s so colorless. It sounds like a bland, give-the-wife-a-project kind of capitulation written by the official White House handlers.
What I find most disheartening about the beige, friendly-sounding jacket blurb is the “About the Author” section, in which Obama is described as the First Lady of the United States and a mother of two daughters, and that in 2010 she started the Let’s Move program. These are all good things, and she’s done a lot with the program. But nowhere does it mention her career–now on hold for at least four years–as a lawyer, and a good one.
In terms of public relations, Obama has conducted her Let’s Move program more successfully than Hillary Clinton, who was also a skilled and high-power attorney, handled a much-embattled health care expansion plan in her eight years as First Lady. Clinton is thorny and opinionated and direct, and is only now learning to keep her moves as Secretary of State quiet rather than telegraphing all her punches–but she’s achieving a lot. Obama is a lot smoother and more immediately likeable–something the rightwingers got wrong from the start–and she’s full of common sense, people sense, and I keep hoping for big wins from her.
Obama’s charismatic and not easily ruffled, and she’s a fashion icon–you could see the newspapers focusing on that since it’s so much easier and picturable than a career full of sitdown negotiations with House Republicans and stacks of paper and emails. But both women have been in the awkward position of First Lady, competent people sidelined for significant numbers of years by their husbands’ presidencies, hemmed in by the public expectation that they’ll shrink themselves into June Cleaver-like roles.
The Lady Bountiful bit is homey, patriotic, old-fashioned and charming. But it’s also hideously condescending and weird as hell that in this day and age it’s seen as acceptable to shove a professional out of work and relegate her to homemaking, even if it’s on such a grand scale. Home gardening is what you do on your day off, when you’re out of work or retired. Even if you enjoy it and are great at it, which I’m not. The fact that I got no tomatoes until January this year says a few things. If we had to depend on what I can grow successfully, we’d starve.
So what I say is, if you’re gonna go First Lady, go big. For the press release, why not do it more like the blockbuster movie radio voiceovers?
[pulsing dark synth strains, standard gravelly yet unctuous baritone voiceover]
“IN A WORLD…where everything has stopped growing except the American waistline…comes a heroine for our times. Once a high-power attorney, now down on her luck and forced to smile at hostile crowds who want her husband to say something–anything–definite about the economy, Michelle Obama IS… The First Lady.
[patriotic/threatening military march starts to swell with a roll of the tympani]
With NOTHING MORE than a trowel, a packet of seeds, a groundskeeping staff of at least twenty, a fully-trained yet cooperative head chef and a large, green lawn, Michelle Obama is TAKING ON …. Corporate America. You’d better HOPE …
[tympani going crazy à la “2001: A Space Odyssey”]
See you at the movies!
Filed under: books, cooking, Food Politics, history, movies, nutrition | Tagged: "American Grown", childhood nutrition, feminism, First Lady, Food Politics, fruits and vegetables, home gardening, homesteading, Let's Move, Michelle Obama, Sam Kass, school gardens, school nutrition, White House garden |